‘Davos Man’ is an angry and powerful look at economic inequality
You may never have heard the name “Davos Man”, but you know who he is.
The term was coined by the late political scientist Samuel Huntington to refer to a subset of affluent attendees at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos – postponed from its January date this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19.
In his new book, Peter S. Goodman describes these people as “those who have been so enriched by globalization and so native to its workings that they were effectively stateless, their interests and wealth crossing borders, their properties and their yachts scattered across continents, their arsenal of lobbyists and accountants straddling jurisdictions, eliminating loyalty to any one nation.”
Goodman, who writes on economics for The New York Times, don’t like Davos Man. At all. And his new book does a great job of explaining why — it’s an angry and powerful look at the economic inequalities that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Goodman’s book focuses on five men from Davos. There’s Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of tech company Salesforce, and a proponent of so-called “stakeholder capitalism,” a supposedly kinder, softer brand of capitalism that claims to care about more than just people. profits. “They’d rather the polar bears not succumb to heat stroke and the homeless be housed somewhere,” Goodman says, with barely concealed skepticism.
And then there’s Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the world’s most famous multi-billionaires. Bezos’ business exists, writes Goodman, because of several factors, including “accumulating monopoly power and applying it to crush competitors; relentlessly squeezing workers for productivity; and playing with the tax system to avoid give money to the government”.
The first part of Davos Man explains how our economic system – a flawed system, he says – has allowed billionaires to amass their wealth, while part two focuses on how the ultra-rich have used the COVID-19 pandemic to fill even more their coffers: “If the agony of 2020 had demonstrated everything, it was how the wealthy could not only prosper but profit from the suffering of everyone else,” writes Goodman.
One of the ways billionaires profited from the pandemic was through the CARES Act, the bill that expanded unemployment benefits and sent relief checks to millions of Americans. So far so good, writes Goodman, “but as a political price for this aid to the common people, every man in Davos has been invited round the trough.” The law also contained a $170 billion tax cut to benefit property developers, as well as billions of dollars in aid to major corporations, including Boeing.
This money, the advocates of unfettered capitalism will argue, would ultimately benefit more than the top executives of corporations. This claim is what Goodman calls “the cosmic lie: the seductive but patently false idea that lowering taxes and deregulating markets will not only produce additional wealth for the wealthy, but will also benefit the fortunate masses – something that has, in reality, happened zero times.”
It goes without saying, perhaps, that Davos Man is a very angry book. Goodman calls Davos Man a “hard-hitting predator” who gained his wealth “by twisting the workings of democracy” and “used the mechanics of democracy to sabotage democratic ideals.” His descriptions of the rich and their enablers are dripping with scorn: Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “looked like a comic strip version of a rich man, his perpetual smirk conjuring up images of silk pajamas,” and he compares Bezos to “a Louis XVI of modern times”. holed up inside the palace.”
Anger, no matter how well placed, can prove exhausting for readers, but Goodman is careful not to overplay his hand. He embellishes the book with occasional humor: when Mnuchin was forced to address the issue of big business taking over small business loans, the secretary “adopted the air of someone offended at finding out the game in Casablanca”. And Bezos, summoned to a Capitol hearing in 2020, “had sought to avoid the committee like a man delaying a visit to the urologist.”
Above all, Goodman does not succumb to despair. While he seems bearish on the chances of President Biden enacting meaningful financial reforms, he seems somewhat optimistic about the long-term chances of a basic income, job guarantees and taxes on wealth, while allowing “the reduction of economic inequalities [is] extremely difficult as a political goal.” (This is one of the book’s few innuendos.)
Davos Man isn’t likely to change the minds of the most hardcore defenders of our current economic system, but there isn’t much that will, and that doesn’t seem to be Goodman’s goal, anyway – his book is aimed at lay readers who might not be familiar with just how wide the wealth gap has grown and continues to grow. It’s a powerful and fiery book, and it just might be essential.